If I had done more homework I would have known a lot more about this city, its people, and its richness of culture. And I just might have discovered that there are over 300 universities here (1/2 of them not accredited).

But I didn’t do a lot of research when planning this trip. Hence, I learned quite a bit this morning from my moto-tour guide, Aji.

To back up, I was connected with Aji randomly, through a restaurant/ hotel/ tour company called ViaVia. I ate  here based on a mere Lonely Planet recommendation and its proximity to my hotel.

The descriptions of the tours that were hanging on the wall of the restaurant were appealing. I liked the vision of the restaurant – which

  • engages in “fair trade” practices;
  • employs local people (especially students);
  • returns part of its profits to the community;
  • and holds respect for the local people in high esteem.

The tour to Borobudur that I chose was described as taking a “beautiful alternative route.” That was a good thing considering that these tours tend to herd guests through the same series of mundane, “most acceptable” (read: boring!) stops. I get weary and tired on these kinds of trips. They are not physically challenging, but are tiring nonetheless because there are so many long, boring explanations, stops, and too many people.

The woman who signed me up suggested a 6:00 start -ugh! – but she was right on, as you will see.

At 4:30 the daily, very loud, Ramadan call to prayer, made me nearly jump out of my skin and out of bed, just like yesterday. I dozed off a bit but, knowing the tour was early, eventually dragged myself up for coffee.

Aji showed up early and sent me a very polite introductory text message basically saying to hurry up so we could see the sunrise. I liked him already!

I hurried down and was pleasantly surprised to hear him explain, in his near perfect English, that he is a teacher in training at a local university – just finishing his thesis.

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Yet another strange coincidence in this crazy trip.

We headed out and right away I could see Merapi, the volcano that erupted violently and with much destruction to the local community about a year ago. While I knew the volcano was close to Jogjakarta, I didn’t realize just how close, and how disruptive it had been for so many miles.

I learned this and so much more from Aji as we stopped for photos of both the volcano (which, I’m told, is usually shrouded in clouds) and the scenery. Much to my surprise, the volcano is still smoking.

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I guess it does this all the time and it’s not a big deal. I would be a little worried living this close to a hot lava geyser, but then, what do I know?

The route we took and the stops Aji chose were all interesting and informative. At one point we stopped near a river where the “cold lava” had destroyed the local ecosystem.

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Although the people in this area were farmers before the eruption, necessity has changed their vocation to “lava rock harvester.” The rock that comes out of this riverbed is pounded – right there on the shore, by hand – into smaller rock more suitable for building material. This looked like hard, monotonous work – not totally unlike farming, but a huge change for the local people.

A few miles later we reached another river that had been wiped out by cold flow, but in this case, the lava had destroyed the bridge across it as well. The “bamboo bridge) is how we got across:

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My vast motorbike passenger experience had not really prepared me for a bridge made of bamboo that has to be repaired every day. But then, this was yet another experience of a lifetime – one that would have certainly been missed in a tour bus.

We arrived at Borobudur before the big crowds; seeing them walk in on my way out made me thankful, once again, for this tour company’s choices and recommendations. The temple was quite nice, and I was escorted around it by an incredibly knowledgeable guy.

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He knew a ton about all kinds of religions. A practicing Muslim, he is currently fasting for Ramadan and shared a lot about that with me as well.

Perhaps his most surprising story of all, however, was that Richard Gere had visited this temple just a month ago. It was shut to the public, and Gere was permitted to enter a part of the temple even the monks aren’t allowed into. “He probably paid a lot of money for that,” explained an anonymous source:) It made me kind of mad, but then, money talks here as loudly as anywhere else.

Although Borobudur is no Angkor Wat, it is a lovely temple steeped in Buddhist history and an interesting story of “discovery,” recovery, destruction (by Merapi) and more recovery. It is beautifully restored and lovingly maintained.

Aji then took me to two less-known, but associated temples: Candi Mendut and Candi Pawon.

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Outside Candi Mendut there is a massive banyon tree

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Where I just had to do a Tarzan swing

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(Karen Boylan – I can hear you laughing about my shorts!)

We then took the scenic route back to Jogjakarta, which included stops to view beautiful panoramas

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and another amazing suspension bridge

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This one was under repair by some jolly Javanese workers.

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(Hard hats and steel-toed boots optional).

Riding across this bridge was pretty cool, too.

It was a great morning hosted by an incredible tour guide who will also take me to the beach tomorrow, and to Prambanan and the hidden temples the evening after that.

Once again, I feel so lucky and thankful to have discovered Jogyakarta and to have met yet another educator in this country.

This adventure continues to grow, as does my network here. I’m feeling the start of something much bigger. Although it may amount to nothing, I’m opening my heart and mind to the possibilities and opportunities that arise.

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